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8. Motivation

As I was developing ipchains, I realized (in one of those blinding-flash-while-waiting-for-entree moments in a Chinese restaurant in Sydney) that packet filtering was being done in the wrong place. I can't find it now, but I remember sending mail to Alan Cox, who kind of said `why don't you finish what you're doing, first, even though you're probably right'. In the short term, pragmatism was to win over The Right Thing.

After I finished ipchains, which was initially going to be a minor modification of the kernel part of ipfwadm, and turned into a larger rewrite, and wrote the HOWTO, I became aware of just how much confusion there is in the wider Linux community about issues like packet filtering, masquerading, port forwarding and the like.

This is the joy of doing your own support: you get a closer feel for what the users are trying to do, and what they are struggling with. Free software is most rewarding when it's in the hands of the most users (that's the point, right?), and that means making it easy. The architecture, not the documentation, was the key flaw.

So I had the experience, with the ipchains code, and a good idea of what people out there were doing. There were only two problems.

Firstly, I didn't want to get back into security. Being a security consultant is a constant moral tug-of-war between your conscience and your wallet. At a fundamental level, you are selling the feeling of security, which is at odds with actual security. Maybe working in a military setting, where they understand security, it'd be different.

The second problem is that newbie users aren't the only concern; an increasing number of large companies and ISPs are using this stuff. I needed reliable input from that class of users if it was to scale to tomorrow's home users.

These problems were resolved, when I ran into David Bonn, of WatchGuard fame, at Usenix in July 1998. They were looking for a Linux kernel coder; in the end we agreed that I'd head across to their Seattle offices for a month and we'd see if we could hammer out an agreement whereby they'd sponsor my new code, and my current support efforts. The rate we agreed on was more than I asked, so I didn't take a pay cut. This means I don't have to even think about external conslutting for a while.

Exposure to WatchGuard gave me exposure to the large clients I need, and being independent from them allowed me to support all users (eg. WatchGuard competitors) equally.

So I could have simply written netfilter, ported ipchains over the top, and been done with it. Unfortunately, that would leave all the masquerading code in the kernel: making masquerading independent from filtering is the one of the major wins point of moving the packet filtering points, but to do that masquerading also needed to be moved over to the netfilter framework as well.

Also, my experience with ipfwadm's `interface-address' feature (the one I removed in ipchains) had taught me that there was no hope of simply ripping out the masquerading code and expecting someone who needed it to do the work of porting it onto netfilter for me.

So I needed to have at least as many features as the current code; preferably a few more, to encourage niche users to become early adopters. This means replacing transparent proxying (gladly!), masquerading and port forwarding. In other words, a complete NAT layer.

Even if I had decided to port the existing masquerading layer, instead of writing a generic NAT system, the masquerading code was showing its age, and lack of maintenance. See, there was no masquerading maintainer, and it shows. It seems that serious users generally don't use masquerading, and there aren't many home users up to the task of doing maintenance. Brave people like Juan Ciarlante were doing fixes, but it had reached to the stage (being extended over and over) that a rewrite was needed.

Please note that I wasn't the person to do a NAT rewrite: I didn't use masquerading any more, and I'd not studied the existing code at the time. That's probably why it took me longer than it should have. But the result is fairly good, in my opinion, and I sure as hell learned a lot. No doubt the second version will be even better, once we see how people use it.

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